Angels and gender
I mention this as incidental information from Fee's class. Fee is himself always ready to admit that there are many things that we do not know for sure. I am simply trying to pass on what he said in class because I believe people are interested in this as an underlying assumption which he brings to Bible translation - that angels are ungendered. My understanding - and Jeremy's - is that this has been the classic Christian view. However, Martin counters this with a argument,
- As to names, note that Dan 9:21 reads האיש גבריאל, so describing Gabriel as a man. Surely the natural inference here is to assign male gender to the angel and the text would have to explicitly counter that text unless the readers were already aware that angels were ungendered.
- Abraham looked up and saw three men standing nearby Gen. 18:2
וַיִּשָּׂא עֵינָיו, וַיַּרְא, וְהִנֵּה שְׁלֹשָׁה אֲנָשִׁים, נִצָּבִים עָלָיו
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. Gen. 32:24
וַיִּוָּתֵר יַעֲקֹב, לְבַדּוֹ; וַיֵּאָבֵק אִישׁ עִמּוֹ, עַד עֲלוֹת הַשָּׁחַר.
But at the core of this discussion is whether the word ish is intentionally male and whether we should derive some principle about the maleness of angels from the use of this word.
Fortunately I have just been reading a paper on the Hebrew word ish by David Stein. HT Iyov. Here is the premise of the paper,
- This paper reports on an investigation into the nature of ’ish in preparation for the article on ’ish in the Semantic Dictionary of Biblical Hebrew, edited by Reinier de Blois under the sponsorship of the United Bible Societies. My conclusion thus far is that ’ish has a very different function in biblical Hebrew than the conventional views allow. Overall, ’ish seems to be a term of affiliation, in which the word signals relationship either to a group or to another party. Only occasionally and incidentally does ’ish connote an “adult male.”
- VIII.A.23. As for rendering in the present verse, I would provide an ambiguous term such as “personages” or “figures” if I thought that the text’s original audience would have had reason to construe the foreground sense of ’anashim as being vague or equivocal. However, in this instance, the nature of ’anashim as a term of affiliation forces only one sense into the foreground, in which these visitors are agents—and whom Abraham recognizes as such from the start.
VIII.A.24. Most translations, including NJPS, render ’anashim as “men.”17 NJPS may have meant “men” in either a vague sense (“figures”), or a simple sense (“adult males”), or an elevated one (Webster’s: “a prosperous or successful person : a person of consequence or high estate”). In any case, rendering as “men” does not convey the salient agency sense of ’anashim, and it also overtranslates the social-gender component of the Hebrew term (see Part VII). These features are severe disadvantages. A more accurate rendering is “[divine] envoys.”18
In view of this discussion of the meaning of ish is there further evidence that would tell us the angels are male? I would also have to question whether this would make angels gendered. That is, if all angels are male, aren't they unisex, and not gendered? To my way of thinking, God is ungendered, and angels are ungendered and we will be also in heaven. I'd be interested in finding out if there are other references to angels that comment on their gender.